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The Heart of the Bush

Chapter III. How Dennis loved his Boss

page 249

Chapter III. How Dennis loved his Boss.

As the year went on, Dennis rode more and more often into Roslyn, or to see Willoughby of Te Puhi, or some other of the chief farmers and runholders in the neighbourhood. Adelaide ceased to go over to Haeremai on the days that he was away, because she would not draw the attention of her father and sister to the frequency with which she was now alone in her home. So she learnt to take a good many meals by herself, and to try to persuade herself that of course she could not expect anything else. But still the house would seem very still and vacant, when she had finished superintending and helping Lena and sat sewing or reading. She ceased to take a pleasure in the murmuring of the Bush trees, and had a fancy they were exulting over her and saying, "You hear us now, don't you? You've nothing else to hear." She scolded herself and would not say a word to Dennis. "I am getting morbid," she said inwardly. "It's beautiful, the great silence of the mountains."

When Dennis was at home he spent more and more time in the office, but it was not now page 250to smoke that he went there, and when she came in he did not always say more than a few words to her. He asked her to help him turn out all the tools, and said they could go to the old workshop; he would not have time for much of that work now. He studied uninteresting hand-books about animals and crops, and read the farming columns in the big weeklies. Adelaide wanted him to re-read with her their well-beloved Scott, and said she would tell him all about Loch Lomond and holy Melrose, "Corriskin dark and Coolin high," "Dun-Edin" and its castled rock, the Borough moor and the Flodden Stone, Tweed's silver stream and Teviotdale, just as in the enchanted hours before their marriage she had raised up visions of the Arthurian "Lyonnesse." Dennis looked greatly tempted, but said after a few minutes' consideration, "I have a lot of business in hand just now. I've not much time for poetry, my little love." Only one long night he sat by her and kissed her hands and worshipped her. She had been very cross and had scolded Lena, and then scolded him for excusing Lena—so altogether unlike Adelaide, and she was leaving the room to have her cry out in the dark when he captured her and made her tell him what was the matter. Dennis was overjoyed at the prospect of having a child of his own, with a grave and tender joy that was beautiful to see, and he did not for some time wake up to the thought of danger for her. But page 251Adelaide expected to die, and she dreaded to lose the beautiful earth and to be separated from her husband. Yet because she would not sadden him, she laid down her bridal glory with a sigh and a shiver at the prospect of so swift an end of all things.

Her father was more anxious about her than her husband. Mr. Borlase had thrown away all chance of getting well by insisting on sitting up when he ought to have been in bed, and by trying to manage his own affairs when he ought to have been resting. By autumn he was physically helpless again and greatly changed for the worse. One day he said to MacDiarmid, "I don't care what the doctor says, Dennis, I shan't see this year out."

"Well, I never thought you'ud give in like that, Mr. Borlase."

"Pooh, do you think I'm frightened of dying? Do you think I'm a man, and like to lie here and watch the flies crawl on the ceiling till my daughter comes to wash and feed me? The only thing that bothers me is Ada's little girl. Em will cut up terribly, I know, but she'll get through. But I hope to God that I'll drag on till Aidie's got her child safely, and then the sooner the better."

Dennis sat in a dumb grief like that of inanimate things. He was not thinking of his wife just then but of his Boss.

"Perhaps you'ud like to know, MacDiarmid, I've come round about your marriage. The page 252child's wrapped up in you, and she's willing to stay in the Bush."

MacDiarmid found voice to speak, leaving deepest things unsaid. "I don't mean Aidie always to live in the Bush. She is wasted here, and you were all right about that. If all goes well she can have a trip to the Old World in a year or two. I'll take her if I can, and if I can't she must just go and enjoy herself with her friends."

"You are a good fellow, MacDiarmid." Mr. Borlase put out a lifeless hand. "Not that Aidie ever will go without you. Look after both my girls for me." Then he added with an inextinguishable sparkle of the blue eyes that had something so like Adelaide's, "You've been a son to me since—well, you remember when."

Dennis got up and went heavily from the room. He had intended to go and speak to M'Ilvride, and he walked on mechanically, but when he got near the cottage on the hill he sat down on the ground, and the sunshine had a curious dull look, or else his eyes were dazed.

As a Highlander loves his chief, as a Bushman loves his mate, as a dog loves his master, so MacDiarmid loved his Boss. He loved him romantically, next only to Adelaide. He loved him in an every-day, matter-of-fact manner. He had not realised his own feeling until he sat on the hill looking down on Haeremai, and knew page 253that he would never again see its master mustering the sheep up on the mountains, or yarding the cattle in the Bush, or shouting his orders at the ford, first and foremost amongst ploughmen and shearers, or sitting at meat in his own home jesting with his daughters.

The little painted wooden cottage with its fenced-in flower garden and potato patch, that was M'Ilvride's now, had once been Dougal MacDiarmid's, and there Dennis was born. He liked his father well enough, not overmuch; Dougal was not very good to Dennis's mother. Noreen was a poor peasant girl who had gone into the second Mrs. Borlase's service, but she was also a beautiful Madonna and an adorable Irish mother.

One day when Dennis was eleven, Mr. Borlase caught him riding an unbroken filly barebacked, and holding on. He made the child get off instantly, and there and then he thrashed him without mercy. Then he flung the horsewhip away and said, "What, can't I make you move a muscle? What a little brick you are! I wish you were my son. I'll thrash you again if you try to break your neck that way. But look here, boy, I'll break that filly in for you and you can have her yourself. Now crawl off to your mother if you can." Dennis went, feeling as if his cuts and bruises were wounds of glory. He hardly knew which he wanted most, to be the Boss's son or to have that filly. Mr. Borlase was riding past page 254the cottage next morning when he saw Noreen digging up potatoes, and drew rein and called to her, "I thrashed that boy of yours for you, Noreen," a fact she had discovered for herself and wept over; her tears began to flow again as he spoke. "Pooh, pooh, woman, don't cry. Did him good. I can't have him spoiling my horses and breaking his neck. Don't you coddle him. He is the bravest little chap I ever saw, and I mean to keep my eye on him. You keep him to his books for the next three or four years, and then I'll give him the first chance that comes along." Sad to confess, Dennis did not employ his school time profitably. He could not have been quite so incorrigibly idle as the violent-tempered Gælic pedagogue swore that he was, for he worked manfully on the farm, and, in the evening, he read prodigiously and thought over what he read; but the Wainoni Flat School he never did cease to regard as a happy hunting ground for "animal spirits." At fourteen he came altogether under Mr. Borlase, and was made pretty sharply to stick to work and show the stuff that was in him. Mr. Borlase was the making of the idle clever boy who had shirked routine and had his own fun, and on whom thrashings and threats were wasted. Dennis knew his debt right well, and repaid it by boundless devotion.

All this helps to explain why Dennis MacDiarmid, one of the best practical farmers page 255in the province, was still only the lesser partner in Haeremai, instead of being sole owner there, or else the opulent manager of the lordly estate of Miramar. And this also is why he sat on the hill that evening until the sun went down and all the fields grew dark.